One Paragraph: Marilynne Robinson, Home

Marilynne Robinson‘s third novel, I’m sorry to report, isn’t perfect. Her famed control unravels a bit in the final pages of Home, and for anybody who loved Gilead, the new novel may feel like more of the same. But as I point out in a forthcoming review, Robinson has few rivals at the sentence level. This paragraph, I think, exemplifies that skill: homespun and often free of action, but with an uncanny power:

Starting all over again, she made a dinner to welcome him home. The dining room table was set for three, lace tablecloth, good china, silver candlesticks. The table had in fact been set for days. When she put the vase of flowers in place, she noticed dust on the plates and glasses and wiped them with her apron. Yellow tulips and white lilacs. It was a little past the season for both of them, but they would do. She had the grocery store deliver a beef roast, two pounds of new potatoes, and a quart of ice cream. She made biscuits and brownies. She went out to the garden and picked young spinach, enough to fill the colander, pressed down and flowing over, as her father would say. And Jack slept. And her father slept. And the day passed quietly, with those sweet savors rising.

4 thoughts on “One Paragraph: Marilynne Robinson, Home

  1. I found the complete opposite to be true of Home. I felt that she avoided the mawkishness that is all too common when dealing with the kind of subject matter of Home. I have to agree with the publisher that this is her best work.

  2. To be clear—I liked “Home” quite a bit. In fact, I’d probably be more enthusiastic if I’d read the book from any author besides Robinson. But she set up some very high expectations (for me, anyway) with “Gilead,” and the new one doesn’t quite have the same power. I never worry about mawkishness with her—her command is simply too strong. The closing pages of the book, though, doesn’t bring the same emotional and spiritual energy that “Gilead” did; the book doesn’t end so much as it peters out.

  3. In fact, the last few dozen pages of Home are extraorrdinarily moving. Home may not be as distinctively framed as Gilead, in terms of voice and structure, but it is exquisitely crafted, beautifully written, and with an engrossing pace whose moments of slowness are fully motivated. The three main characters, marked by loneliness, hope and despair, give each other a great deal but not enough. Of course readers will compare it to Gilead: the relation between the two books is unique in recent American fiction. And yes, Gilead is more distinctive. But Home stands entirely on its own as a great work.

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